Health secretary Humza Yousaf announced the Scottish Government would invest more than £600 million on an expansive package that includes plans to recruit 1,000 additional staff over winter.
Of that, a total of £8m will be specifically injected into recruiting nurses from overseas in efforts to “expand” the workforce available to support health boards.
The spending commitment comes as it was confirmed almost 5,000 patients had spent half a day or more in accident and emergency at Scottish hospitals in August, as waiting times performance plunged to a new low.
Almost 900 operations were cancelled by hospitals in August and the number of people in hospital who were well enough to be discharged jumped by 20 per cent compared with last year.
The Government said it would support recruiting up to 750 additional nurses, midwives and “allied health professionals from overseas”.
Alongside this, NHS health boards have identified they will recruit an additional 250 ‘band 4’ support staff across acute, primary care and mental health across coming months.
Under the plans, health boards will be able to offer ‘pension recycling’ – where unused employer contributions can be paid as additional salary to support the retention of staff.
A further £45m will be spent on the Scottish Ambulance Service to support on-going recruitment, service development and winter planning.
Mr Yousaf said: "This investment allowing for significant recruitment of 1,000 additional staff over the course will be a welcome boost to our workforce and health boards up and down the country. The offer of paid part-time work to health and social care students and additional measures designed to support opportunities for volunteering across the NHS are also maintained in our plan.”
The Government wants to improve call waiting times to NHS 24 and improved patient outcomes over the winter period, according to Mr Yousaf.
The health secretary said the winter vaccination programme was “very much underway”, with more than two million people being offered Covid-19 and flu vaccines by the holiday season.
Of the £528m allocated to health and social care partnerships for winter funding, £200m has been set aside to increase the hourly rate of pay for those working in social care to £10.50.
A total of £124m to assist health and social care partnerships to expand care at home capacity has also been announced, as well as the extension of the Social Care Staff Support Fund to March 31 next year to ensure staff receive full pay when in Covid isolation.
Plans also include writing to GPs to communicate the expectation that pre-bookable appointments are made available in every practice, alongside same day, face-to-face and remote appointments.
Mr Yousaf said: "Recovery is a process and I’ve always been upfront in saying this recovery journey we are on will take years, not weeks or indeed a few months.”
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, said: “Doctors and patients at their wits’ end will have received little comfort from this tone-deaf statement.
“Scotland’s NHS is in desperate need of a robust, credible strategy for increasing capacity, supporting staff and making it through this winter.
“All we got from Humza Yousaf was more self-congratulation over his completely inadequate NHS Recovery Plan, which has so far failed to make a dent in our spiralling NHS backlogs and waiting times.
“The health secretary offered no solutions to the crisis in our A&E departments. He made no mention of dentistry whatsoever in his speech, despite warnings that NHS dentistry in Scotland is on the verge of collapse. And he boasted about his Government’s action on delayed discharge, despite the latest statistics showing that bed blocking remains at almost record levels.
“Scotland’s NHS is already at breaking point, and if this is all the health secretary can muster, then we are in for a terrifying winter.”
The announcement comes as a new survey of junior doctors in Scotland revealed almost half are considering quitting the profession.
A BMA Scotland survey of its junior doctor members revealed 49.8 per cent were considering leaving their jobs within the next two years, with issues in the NHS leaving them feeling “demoralised, undervalued and exhausted”.
Some 90 per cent of the 320 respondents said issues and challenges of working as a junior doctor in the health service over the past year had lowered their morale, with 52 per cent having told the survey it had significantly lowered their morale.
Dr Lailah Peel, the outgoing chair of the BMA’s Scottish junior doctor committee (SJDC), said: “We are already desperately short-staffed. We need more doctors across the entire system from primary care through to the highest levels in secondary care. We cannot afford to lose valuable junior doctors who are the future of our senior workforce.”